Project 'a threat to country park'
Environmentalists and villagers fear a patch of land that has been flattened and cleared could be used to extend a luxury development on the edge of a country park.
About 60 per cent of the plot in Wong Chuk Yeung village, Fo Tan, which is about the size of a football pitch, is owned by the government, with the rest owned by shell companies.
The Lands Department has promised to seal off the government-owned part of the site, which had some trees, but says the landowners were free to flatten their own land.
As many as 8,000 cases of misuse land, including government land, are reported each year. The department was strongly criticised by the Audit Commission in March for failing to do more to tackle the problem.
A villager said about 10 luxury village houses had been built on a site next to the flattened slope, and they were 'already home to some foreigners'.
'Though the land used to be common farmland of the village, it was sold to some developers years ago,' he said.
A path has already been built between the two sites, cutting across a stream that indirectly feeds into the Lower Shing Mun Reservoir.
Sandra Chow Wing-shan, a conservation officer with the environmental group WWF, said loose soil from the site might pollute the stream, especially during heavy rainstorms, threatening wildlife and potentially contaminating the water source.
Chow said sewage from the homes could potentially seep into the stream.
But a spokeswoman for the Water Supplies Department said an inspection at the site had shown no detectable contamination in the water samples and no abnormal water discharges from the houses.
A Lands Department spokesman said removing vegetation and soil on private land was not illegal unless there were signs of construction.
The department had not received an application to develop the site but would take 'immediate appropriate land control action to fence off the concerned government land by next week', he said.
Chow said the government should tighten protection of land near a country park.
'You can't just draw a line to say on the left it is conserved as a country park but on the right you can do whatever you want,' she said. Green groups were not against development but it had to be done carefully.
WWF believes the site was flattened about a month ago.
Ng Cho-nam, an assistant professor in the University of Hong Kong's department of geography, said the government should offer more protection to vulnerable sites by including them in its outline zoning plan, under which proposals for development would be monitored by the Town Planning Board.
Land Registry records show that flats in the housing complex belong to shell companies and individuals.